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Dodgers vs Braves NLCS Preview: Taking a Closer Look at Games 1 and 2 in Atlanta



Wilmer Flores did not swing. The umpire’s call was wrong, and he should have been given the opportunity to continue his at-bat against Max Scherzer, a pitcher he was 0-for-17 in his career against. He should have been given the right to strike out with dignity, flailing helplessly at the next pitch Max would have thrown. #JusticeforWilmer

Outside of this immense tragedy, Game 5 between the Dodgers and Giants was as good as advertised for anyone watching neutrally. Logan Webb was once again excellent, although not infallible – this time, the Dodgers would find a way to plate a run and push his pitch count more effectively than they did in Game 1. Dave Roberts countered with a bit of a strange strategy, electing to send both Corey Knebel and Brusdar Graterol to the mound before turning to the originally planned starting pitcher, Julio Urias. Ultimately, the game would turn back over to the bullpen for the final 3 innings tied 1-1.

In the 9th inning, the Giants played what they felt was their ace in the hole: Camilo Doval, their flamethrowing rookie closer. Doval had pitched well earlier in the series, flummoxing Dodgers’ hitters with a wipeout fastball/slider combination and great command. In Game 5, though, the moment suddenly felt too big. Doval’s command wavered, an issue that manifested itself first when he plunked Justin Turner with a fastball to give the Dodgers a go-ahead baserunner. 2 singles later, the Dodgers had finally taken the lead – the back breaking blow delivered by much maligned former MVP Cody Bellinger. Max Scherzer would work around an error in the bottom of the 9th, and strike out* Wilmer Flores to end the night and the Giants’ season.

While Wilmer Flores departs on the October vacation he always imagined playing for the Giants would allow him to enjoy, the Dodgers are off to Atlanta for a NLCS rematch from a year ago. The Braves were impressive in their series win over the Milwaukee Brewers, allowing a total of 6 runs over 4 games to the NL Central champions. Once left for dead after injuries to Ronald Acuna and Mike Soroka, Atlanta retooled effectively as 2021 wore on, eventually running away with the NL East.

The Braves are a team Dodgers fans have grown familiar with – 2021 marks the 3rd postseason meeting between the two clubs in the last 4 years. Despite the Dodgers having posted a record 18 full games better than Atlanta’s during the regular season, the Braves will have home field advantage as the NLCS begins tonight.

Atlanta’s lineup is deep and powerful, especially after the improvements the team made in the days leading up to the trade deadline. Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman remain steadily excellent, while surrounding contributors like Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson return for a second shot at the Dodgers this season. Beyond their core, the Braves have added strong offensive performers like Jorge Soler (questionable to play in the NLCS after testing positive for Covid-19 earlier this week), Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, and old friend Joc Pederson. Altogether, Atlanta boasts a powerful offensive group that will punish any mistakes made by Dodgers’ pitching.

Pitching wise, the Braves will throw a ton of familiar faces at the Dodgers. Los Angeles native Max Fried will start Game 1, and will likely be followed by Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson as the series progresses. All three pitchers have seen success against the Dodgers in the past, meaning it ought to be a priority for Los Angeles to get Atlanta’s bullpen into the game as early as possible each night.

Game 1
Saturday, October 16
5:07 pm PT

Corey Knebel (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs Max Fried (1-0, 0.00 ERA)

It remains to be seen how the Dodgers will handle their pitching staff in the NLCS after having to go “all hands on deck” to make it to this point. Game 5 opener Corey Knebel starts in game 1, not Max Scherzer. Some may have viewed Scherzer game 5 appearance as more of a competitive bullpen session between starts, but the front office now feels pushing him back to Sunday or even possibly Tuesday in Los Angeles is the better plan.

As for Knebel, he’s pitched well in 10 career regular season appearances against the Braves, posting a 2.79 ERA over 9.2 innings pitched. This postseason, he’s yet to be scored on, tossing 2.1 clean innings between the Wild Card game and NLDS.

Max Fried has seen mixed results against the Dodgers in his career, but is coming off an excellent season (14-7, 3.04 ERA) and a dominant start against Milwaukee in the NLDS. Fried made two starts against the Dodgers in last season’s NLCS and had mixed results. His first appearance was masterful, scattering 4 hits over 6 strong innings while only allowing a run – but with a chance to eliminate L.A. later in the series, he would walk 4 while allowing 3 runs (and 2 home runs) while picking up the loss. Fried thrives on pitching to soft contact and throwing strikes – in 2021, he ranked in the 81st percentile in walk rate and 90th percentile in exit velocity against per Baseball Savant. Unlike many of the pitchers the Dodgers faced in the San Francisco series, Fried does not rely on swings and misses or batters chasing to be successful – as such, the Dodgers will need to be ready to jump on opportunities early as it’s likely Fried will pound the strike zone.

Game 2
Sunday, October 17
4:38 pm PT

TBD (Buehler?) vs TBD

It would make sense that LA would turn to Walker Buehler on Sunday, an appearance that would come on a standard 4-days’ rest. Buehler’s postseason exploits for the Dodgers have been well-documented, and his clutch Game 4 start on short rest in the NLDS only added to his legend. He has pitched in Atlanta in the playoffs once before, a start that unfortunately produced the loudest moment in Truist (then SunTrust) Park’s history when he was taken deep for a grand slam by Ronald Acuna Jr. Last season, Buehler was dominant against Atlanta in the NLCS – over 2 starts, a solo home run by Freddie Freeman was all the Braves could manage against him in 11 innings.

Scherzer is also a candidate to make this start, which could ideally leave him available for a game 6 or 7 situation. Whenever Scherzer does get the nod, he’s certainly familiar with Atlanta after spending the years he did pitching in the NL East. The Braves have performed better against the 3-time Cy Young winner than most – Scherzer’s career ERA against Atlanta sits at 3.88 while he’s posted a 10-9 record over 27 career appearances. Max has faced Atlanta since joining the Dodgers, an excellent performance on September 1 that saw him pitch 6 scoreless innings while striking out 9 batters with no walks.

It’s difficult to speculate who might start for Atlanta. Part of me would expect to see Charlie Morton, the presumed number 2 in Atlanta’s rotation with a history of pitching well against the Dodgers. The other option for Atlanta would be Ian Anderson, a 23-year old righty who pitched well against the Dodgers in 2020’s NLCS. Given Anderson’s splits (4-4 on the road, 5-1 at home in 2021), it wouldn’t surprise me to see Brian Snitker elect to give him the opportunity to pitch at home in Game 2 before turning to his veteran Morton on the road. Both pitchers present stiff competition, and the priority with each will need to be to push pitch counts and continue to tax the Braves’ bullpen.

Final Thoughts

If 2020’s NLCS was any indication, the Dodgers will have their hands full with Atlanta over the next week or so. The Braves are a well put together team capable of beating the Dodgers in a number of ways, and have the added advantage of home field this season. This time, I’m sure the Dodgers would prefer to play from ahead.

Written by Dalton Brown

Comments

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  1. Dalton, yet another well written piece. However, here is a reality check for Braves fans…if the Braves were in the NL West, THEY WOULDN’T EVEN BE IN THE PLAYOFFS!!

    Dodgers in 5!

    • Correct you are. But I got to say this again, because they won’t be able to limit the Braves offense to the tune of 10 runs in 5 or 7 games. Sooooo it won’t matter if Braves only won 92 or so games. If the Dodger offense lays an egg in this series. their season will be over.

      • Paul, one question? Do you ever get tired of beating a dead horse? At least I try to bring other things to light…yours is the same thing every darn time! It’s getting old. Yes we know your stance on the offense. Of course it’s a concern, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

  2. Ok folks lineup is out:

    RF Betts
    SS Seager
    2B T Turner (try getting some hits!)
    3B J Turner (same as your brother)
    C Smith
    1B Pujols (as predicted)
    LF Pollock
    CF Taylor
    P Knebel (you won’t need your batting gloves)

    There you go. Ok boys, now go out there and kick booty!

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